Modus Operandi -- Film Review



An affectionate and technically accurate homage to '70s-era exploitation films, featuring veteran action movie actor Danny Trejo in a pivotal role: No, it's not last week's "Machete" but rather "Modus Operandi," a decidedly lower-budget midnight movie-style effort directed and co-written by Frankie Latina.

The timing of its release, which is being "presented" by former porn star Sasha Gray, is, of course, probably entirely coincidental.

Whereas Robert Rodriguez took great pains to give "Machete" a vintage ragged feel, this film comes by it more naturally, thanks to its being shot on Super 8 film on a budget so small it probably wouldn't have paid for Rodriguez's trailer.

The spy thriller plot, which really doesn't bear sustained attention, has to do with a CIA Black Ops agent, Stanley (Randy Russell), depressed and embittered since the murder of his wife. He's assigned to retrieve a pair of important briefcases stolen from a major presidential candidate; in return, he's promised the identity of her killer.

The convoluted, Milwaukee-set (?) proceedings that ensue feature frequently violent encounters with a gallery of colorfully dangerous types, including the coked-up Casey Thunderbird (Barry Polterman) and the wonderfully named Black Licorice (Nikki Johnson).

Although the copious amounts of gore and gratuitous nudity on display (not to mention the "intermission," during which we're encouraged to head out for popcorn and soda) reveal the film's grindhouse influences, the filmmaker clearly has higher things in mind, including stylistic homages to everything from the French New Wave to Italian neorealism to the photos of Helmut Newton to retro porn films.

Besides Trejo -- who has a suitably nasty scene involving a stick of dynamite and an eye socket -- the quirky ensemble includes such performers as Mark Borchardt (the hapless filmmaker profiled in "American Movie") and Mark Metcalf (the sadistic Doug Neidermeyer in "National Lampoon's Animal House").

As with most genre rehashes, a little of "Modus" goes a long way, and the film runs out of creative steam long before its conclusion. But there's no doubting the imagination, passion and certainly not the tenacity of its director, who apparently spent four years shooting his magnum opus.

Opens: Friday, Sept. 10
Production: Frankie Latina Motion Pictures, Reign Supreme Entertainment, Special Entertainment
Cast: Randy Russell, Danny Trejo, Mark Borchardt, Michael Sottile, Barry Polterman, Nikki Johnson, Mark Metcalf
Director: Frankie Latina
Screenplay: Frankie Latina, Andrew Swant
Producers: Andrew Swan, Jon Krill, Laurie Foote, Mark Foote, Shalyse Dominique, Zebedee LeTendre
Executive producer: Bobby Ciraldo
Director of photography: Mark Escribano
Music: Peter Batchelder, Ray Chi, Didier Leplae, Nick Pipitone, Joe Riepenhoff, Renato Umali, Joe Wong
No rating, 80 minutes
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